When I was in university years ago, I applied for a job. During my interview for the position, the board asked me to place the following items in order of importance: family, sports, friends, work, homework.
All these years later I now understand that the intent behind the question was: On any given day, when nothing special is going on, will you show up for work even if you have an overdue assignment or your friends are hosting the funnest party ever?
They wanted the answer to be: work, homework, family, friends, sports.
At the time I was thinking BIG PICTURE. What is most important, really? What is most important during times of crisis? What amounts to more than what you can carry in a file box at the end of the day?
I answered: Family, friends, work, homework, sports.
Ididn’t get the job, but I still think I gave the right answer.
I was reminded of this by a video a friend posted on Facebook. It is important to take care of the big rocks first, or your life will be nothing but dust and pebbles.
Who are the people helping you through this pandemic? I have neighbours, friends, my book club, and writing circles. I also have a core group of people who support me in all things: the fellow members of my progressive faith community, tirelessly doing good in the world. Here are my top 10 reasons why they are my peeps.
10. Critical thinking
There are faith communities out there that don’t tell you what to think. (There are. Really.) There are faith communities that say, “Yeah, I don’t know what it’s all about either, but let’s explore this mystery together.” Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples provide places for you to sit and listen and ponder fundamental matters.
9. A community of support
When life brings you to your knees (and it will) a faith community helps you through. The connections forged at deep levels in these groups help people to rebuild lives after tragic events like the loss of a child, the early death of a spouse, or global pandemic.
8. Lifelong learning
“I am still learning,” Michelangelo said. An insatiable curiosity drives happiness, and faith communities come with an endless supply of brain teasers.
Our popular culture provides so few opportunities for belting out a tune. If you want to sing, play the guitar, or bang a drum, we have the place for you. Best of all, when you sing in these venues, even a solo, you don’t have to be perfect. The audiences are very forgiving.
6. Child education
What does the wisdom of Solomon mean? Under what circumstances might one require the patience of Job? What is a David and Goliath situation? How many prodigal sons, or daughters, do you know? Have you ever been the Good Samaritan? Our societies, our art, and our literature contain religious references which would be meaningless without adequate education about our heritages.
Humans create rituals. It is what we do. Jumping into, or out of, any particular activity without some form of ritual feels wrong. At a hockey game we introduce the players and sing the national anthem. At graduation ceremonies we wear gowns, deliver moving speeches, give individual rewards, and have a group celebration. Faith communities provide grounding rituals for the most pivotal moments in our lives. Sometimes the comfort of ritual is all that gets someone through the night.
When I returned to church as an atheist adult, I did it for my daughter. I was shocked to discover there was something for me too. At the time I had a young baby, I worked full time and we had just moved to a new house. I was stressed. When I went to church each week, I left my baby in the care of the nursery workers and sat in the pew. I expected to sit and roll my eyes at everything the minister said. Instead each week he said something that made me think. Each week he said things that surprised me, challenged me. Each week, at some point, I had tears in my eyes. That hour of peace fulfilled a need I didn’t even know I had.
3. Helping others
Faith communities pick up where social agencies drop off. The charitable donations and volunteer activities of members of all kinds of faith communities keep many aspects of our society afloat. Clothing donations, homework programs, soup kitchens, food banks, emergency assistance, global outreach. The charitable deeds amount to millions of volunteer hours and billions of dollars.
2. Creativity and growth
A former minister of mine used to say, “Do it, and you’ll grow.” This simple statement encouraged many to take on tasks that made their fingertips tingle with fear. Our involvement with faith communities pushes us to do work that stretches us past our comfort zone. Every time we climb over our fear and break through that barrier, we grow. We learn to get past fear. Are you brave enough to deliver a Christmas basket to a family in need and share the experience in their home? Would you teach Sunday School? Preach a sermon? Do it, and you’ll grow.
And the number 1 reason to belong to a faith community . . .
So many of the activities in faith communities are just plain fun!
Two men stood on opposite sides of a field. An Overseer gave the order: “Dig.”
The first man said “Okay! I can handle that. I’ve been preparing all my life to dig.” He selected his best shovel from five shovels leaning against a large storage shed, and he set to work. He had no trouble digging; his parents had paid for digging lessons when he was a child, and he had a college degree in shovelling. He was so good at digging that sometimes this man wished he had more shovels. The families of some of his friends had so many shovels they needed more than one storage shed. They had more than they could ever use, and this man knew his life would be better too, if he amassed a larger supply.
The second man across the field heard the “Dig” instruction and set to work. He had no shovel, so he dug using his bare hands. He had never had a shovel, so he wouldn’t have known what to do with one if he had it. He believed that shovels were something only other people had, and they were a dream he would never attain. He was a little afraid of shovels, truth be told. And the people who had shovels didn’t treat him nicely at all, so he didn’t want to become like them. Because he didn’t have a shovel, he had to dig longer and work harder than the other man, and he still didn’t get as much done. But he kept working. One day he fell ill, but he dug anyway. There are no such things a sick days for people with no shovels.
The first man didn’t pay much attention to what was happening on the far away side of the field, but one day he decided to take a well-deserved afternoon off and go for a walk. When he came to the side of the field where the second man was working through his lunch hour, he saw how little progress the man had made.
“Look at that,” he said. “He’s hardly done anything. He’s waiting for me to pick up the slack.”
He shook his head and walked away. “He’s just lazy and riding on my coattails.” He didn’t notice that the man had no tools to work with. It didn’t occur to him to share any of the shovels he wasn’t using.
The Overseer came back to check on progress. He visited the man digging with his bare hands, and he complimented him on his progress. “You have done well,” he said. The digger knew he had worked hard. He felt proud of the results of his hard work, even though he knew it wouldn’t look like much to others.
The Overseer went to visit the man with many shovels. That digger said, “Look at what I’ve done.” He waved an arm to show off the large area of ground he had worked. “I’ve done so much more than that guy over there.” He pointed to the small patch the other digger had worked on the opposite corner of the field.
“You have done well,” the Overseer said, “But do you think you might have a shovel to spare?”
Startled, the first digger replied, “Why, sure, I guess.” He’d never thought of that before. He looked down at the shovel in his hand. It had a sturdy handle, and it was just the right length. He really loved it. He didn’t want to give that one away, so he kept his favourite shovel. He gave the Overseer one he’d forgotten he even had out of the back of the shed.
The Overseer returned to the far side of the field and placed the shovel into the dirty and calloused hands of the second digger. The man held it out from his body, overwhelmed at first. He had never handled shovels, so it felt awkward. He didn’t think he deserved such a thing.
“Use it. It will help you,” the Overseer said.
Eventually the second digger gained confidence and became quite comfortable with the new tool. It worked so well for him, he even enjoyed some time off every once in a while.
There will always be people with more or fewer tools.
Don’t judge people who don’t have tools.
Don’t be afraid of tools; master them and they will help.
Everyone is worthy of tools.
Consider the needs of others and get them some tools, if you can.
Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have more tools than we really need.
I am re-posting this piece from the past, because it is one of my favourites.
My eye falls upon a Frisbee—upside-down, silent, waiting—on the family room floor where my son dropped it.
I contemplate the restful disc. I imagine it cutting through the air—or on the air, more accurately—in a free, arcing flight that captures natural forces and submits to them.
It is beautiful. It is science.
It is beautiful science.
The Frisbee needs a hand to set it in motion, otherwise the object at rest would stay at rest. It must have help. It cannot do it alone.
When a hand hurls it, the aerodynamic forces of lift and drag, high pressure, low pressure, and spin come into play. The Frisbee soars, graceful in its fulfillment of purpose.
The flight doesn’t last forever though. Gravity insists it must land, so the Frisbee touches down to a place of rest once again.
My Frisbee is purpose-built to fly, but that same Frisbee has also served as a doggie water bowl on car trips. A different Frisbee hangs on my office wall as a messenger; its happy face brings me a message of joy every day. Frisbees might be built to fly, but they can do other things too.
And they come in all different sizes, shapes and colours. Some are ring-shaped. Others are even flat and collapsible for ease of travel.
What can we learn from my upside-down Frisbee?
We need a hand to set us in motion. We can learn to expect and accept that helping hand.
Capture the forces that surround us and submit to them so we soar gracefully in our fulfillment of purpose.
Enjoy the flight while it’s happening, and be present in it.
We must land. We can’t fly ALL the time. Landing isn’t just acceptable; it’s desirable.
The landing and the lying around waiting for the hand to set us in motion once again is as natural and acceptable and beautiful and scientific as a soaring flight.
We are purpose-built, crafted to fulfill a certain function, but we can do other things too.
We can be messengers to brighten someone’s day.
We can learn to appreciate all the different sizes, shapes and colours of each other.
The Frisbee upside-down on my floor didn’t soar through the air on an arcing path, but it did travel through the air in a different way—through me, to you, to give us all something to think about.
Now that’s one faith-full purpose I’ll bet the Frisbee didn’t foresee.
“The difference between ‘don’t wait’ and ‘non-waiting’ is like the difference between detachment and non-attachment. Detachment implies distancing ourselves from a particular object or experience. It can feel cool . . . Non-attachment simply means not holding on to, not grasping . . .
Non-waiting is a quiet welcoming, more of an invitation than a demand. When we stop leaning into the next experience by hoping for a particular outcome, or leaning into the past by hoping we might somehow change it, only then are we free to know this moment completely.”
My final poem for Poetry Month. A tribute to people doing important, unacknowledged work.
Giants are the smallest men
As measured by scales of Job.
With poison scorn and fountain pens
They slash and jab to rule the globe.
In glass towers they strut and spit.
The height a craved collusion.
Fragility keeps them separate
In fantastical delusion.
For city smog mugs their glass
Dying skin cells dust book spines
Ink-stained downsizings fill the trash
And stains streak their ample Calvin Kleins.
The humble arrive and quietly hedge
Their mops, dusters and garbage bins
Around the small mighty who can't acknowledge
That cleaners are our greatest ones.